Nepal at a Glance
If you are taking a daytime flight into this amazing country you will not skip to marvel the varied terrain below. You witness the lowlands of the flat Terai region, the middle range Churia hills, the flanks of Mahabharata range, the flowering Himalayas and free flowing Himalayan Rivers. As Nepal is one of the countries with the greatest altitude variation. You will be highly amazed of what you can experience in a short period of time. In no other country in the world you might get chance to fly closely past Everest and other seven highest mountains in the world, pause in the cultural Kathmandu valley and get down into the plains of Terai for elephant safari in the sub tropical forests within a same day.
Like the topography and the climate the culture and people are also equally diverse. Sandwiched between two big countries India and China, the country has unique mixture of the people of Mongol origin and the Indo-Aryan origin. Although only 26.6 million people (census 2011) live in this country, the people, their languages, customs and features are very much different from one region to the other. The presence of 70 above ethnic groups and some number of dialects is a fact good enough to prove that there is a lot to see and lot to experience. Col. Krik Patrik who visited the Kathmandu valley in the 17th century as the first recorded westerner to visit Kathmandu valley described it as a open museum stating that the valley has more temples than houses, more gods and goddess than people and more festivals than days in a year. A French writer who visited Nepal in the 70s described Nepal as the Florence of Asia, the city of art par excellence, a wonder of the modern world where Europe of the middle ages can still be discovered. Nepal is the meeting place of two of the biggest religion, Hinduism and Buddhism. These two religious groups consists almost 90% of the total population and yet they have a great sense of tolerance and respect towards other minorities. There has never been any religious rite in Nepal, which is a difficult thing to find in the history of many countries in the presence of world.
History of Nepal
Nepal has a written history from 5th century A.D before that there are Myths and legends but no written documentation of historical incidents. The Kirat Dynasty is believed to have ruled in and around the Kathmandu valley around 7th or 8th Century B.C. The most Notable King of this Dyansty was Yalambar who is mentioned in the famous epic of Mahabharata. The Lichhavis of Vaishali arrived in Kathmandu around the 3 rd century AD and replaced the Kirats. In the early 7th Century, Amshuvarma, the first Thakuri king took over the throne from his father-in-law who was a Lichhavi. He married off his daughter Bhrikuti to the famous Tibetan King Tsong Tsen Gampo thus establishing good relations with Tibet. Mandev was another famous kinf of the Dyansty who introduced the first coin in Nepal and also built the Changu Narayan Temple which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Malla Dynasty from Northern India arrived in Kathmandu in the 1200 A.D and then replaced the Lichhivi dynasty and then starts the golden age of art and creativity in Kathmandu valley. Most of the Cultural world heritage sites of the valley in the present day is the contribution of the Malla Dynasty .
The Malla dynasty ruled from the end of the 12th century to the mid of the 17th century for almost 550 years and during this time they built numerous temples and splendid palaces with picturesque squares , They contributed in the proper organization of the society, religious festivals were introduced and literature, music and art were encouraged. The Mallas ruled in the valley with great stability from 12 to the 15th century but after the death of Yakshya Malla his sons divided the valley into three kingdoms in mid 15th century. Kathmandu (Kantipur), Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon) and Patan (Lalitpur) became independent kingdom and were fierce competitors. During the time of 15-16th century Nepal was divided into 46 independent principalities. Among them in the West was Gorkha, home of the Gurkhas. The King Prithvi Narayan Shah , a far sighted and ambitious man started a conquering mission that led to the defeat of all the independent kingdoms including the Kingdoms of the valley and he moved the capital of the unified country to Kathmandu and then the Shah dynasty ruled in Nepal from 1769 to 2008.
Following all the instability because of clash of different groups within the Palace of Nepal, Jung Bahadur Rana, the then Commander in chief of the Nepal Army took absolute power by removing his opponents in the palace. He started a hereditary reign of the Ranas that lasted from 1846 from 1951.The country maintained isolation during the time of the Ranas and besides few British nobody from the outside world was allowed into Nepal, especially the Kathmandu Valley. The Rana regime came to an end after a joint revolution of the political party and the King, who was kept just as a passive king by the Ranas. This revolution established the King again as the head of the state and Multi Party democracy started in Nepal. In early 1959, King Mahendra issued a new constitution, Held an election to elect B.P Koirala as the primininster but in 1960, King Mahendra had changed his mind and dissolved Parliament, dismissing the first democratic government.
The people’s movement restored the multiparty democracy with a constitutional monarchy in 1990. Paving way for democracy, the then-King Birendra accepted constitutional reforms and established a multiparty parliament with King as the Head of State and an executive Prime Minister. The first parliamentary election of Nepal was held in 1991 May. The Maoist revolution started in 1996 against the elected government under the King.
The Royal massacre that took place in 1st June 2001 changed the course of Nepalese politics and laid foundations for the transformation of Nepal into a Republic. It was a horrific tragedy that wiped out the entire royal family including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya with many of their closest relatives. With only King Birendra’s brother, Gyanendra and his family surviving, he was crowned the king. King Gyanendra abided by the elected government for some time and then dismissed the elected Parliament to wield absolute power. A joint revolution of the Mainstream political parties and the Maoist rebels started in April 2006 and then after 19 days of revolution the king finally stepped down from the throne. Eventually, King Gyanendra relinquished his power and reinstated the Parliament. On November 21, 2006, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist chairman Prachanda signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) 2006, committing to democracy and peace for the progress of the country and people. A Constituent Assembly election was held on April 10, 2008. On May 28, 2008, the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic, abolishing the 240 year-old monarchy. Nepal today has a President as Head of State and a Prime Minister heading the Government. The constitutional Assembly of Nepal was dissolved in May 2012 without the issuing of the constitution and Nepal is heading towards the second constitutional assembly election on Nov 19th 2013.
Nepal is lies in the midst of the Himalayas sand witched between two giant countries China in the north and other three sides. This is a land locked country with a total area of 147,181 sq. km with almost 3,830 sq. km covered by water. The geographical coordinates are 28°00′N 84°00′E. Nepal falls in the temperate zone north of the Tropic of Cancer. The length east to west is about 800 km and the width from North to south is 160 to 240 km intersected by many river systems. Geographically the country has been divided as Himalayan region, mid hill region and Terai region. The highest point in the country is Mt. Everest (8,848 m) also the highest point on earth and the lowest is Kechana Kalan in Jhapa (60 m).
The Terai regionin the southern part of the country has width of 25 to 3 km and altitude ranging from 60 -305 m, and consisit of 17 % land mass of Nepal. The southern lowland Terai continues to the Bhabar belt covered with the Char Kose Jhadi forests known for rich wildlife. Further north, the Siwalik zone (700 – 1,500 m) and the Mahabharat range (1,500 – 2,700 m) give way to the Duns (valleys), such as Trijuga, Sindhuli, Chitwan, Dang and Surkhet. The Midlands (600 – 3,500 m), north of the Mahabharata range is where the two beautiful valleys of Kathmandu and Pokhara lie covered in terraced rice fields, and surrounded by forested watersheds.
The Himalayan region, area above the 3,000m comprises mountain valleys, alpine pastures and temperate forests limited by the tree-line (4,000 m) and snow line (5,500 m). Among the fourteen 8000 meter or high peaks in the world 8 of them are in Nepal including Mount Everest. They are Mount Everest (8,848 m), Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), Lhotse (8,516 m), Makalu (8,463 m), Cho Oyu (8,201m), Dhaulagiri (8,167 m), Manaslu (8,163 m) and Annapurna (8,091 m). On the other side of the Himalayas are the valleys with cold desert like climates as they are rain shadow areas. These rain shadow areas share much resemblance to Tibet. Nepal is the 2nd richest country in terms of fresh water resources after Brazil as ther are more than 6000 rivers running down from the Himalayas and the Hills.
There are 163 wetlands among which 9 have the status of Ramsar sites. Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Beeshazarital (Chitwan), Jagdishpur Reservoir (Kapilvastu) Ghodaghodi Tal (Kailali) in the Terai, and Gokyo (Solukhumbu), Phoksundo (Dolpo), Rara (Mugu) and Mai Pokhari (Ilam) in the mountain region are the 9 Ramsar sites in Nepal. More than 30 caves make this country a true adventure lovers place. The most famous is the Maratika Cave or Haleshi Mahadev cave is worshipped both by Hindus and Buddhist. Siddha Cave is another famous cave situated in Bandipur. Pokhara the tourist capital of Nepal has numerous caves such as the Mahendra cave, Bat cave, Gupteshwor cave etc. The forbidden Kingdom og Lomanthang also has caves such as Luri and Tashi Kabum with murals and chhortens and paintings dating back to the 13th century.
Climate of Nepal
Nepal has a varied climate compared to its small land mass and the area it occupies. Altitude is the major factor in the difference of climatic conditions. In the northern part of the country the summers are cooler but the winters are very cold and severe while in south summers are tropical and winters are mild. Climate wise the year is divided into 4 seasons spring, summer with monsoon, autumn and winter. An average temperature drop of 6°C occurs for every 1,000 m gain in altitude. In the Terai, summer temperatures exceed 37° C and higher in some areas, winter temperatures range from 7°C to 23°C in the Terai. In mountainous regions, hills and valleys summers are temperate while winter temperatures can plummet under sub zero. The climate in Kathmandu is pleasant as in summer the temperature remains between 19°C – 35°C and in winter the temperature is in-between 2°C – 12°C respectively.
The Himalayas don’t let the cold wind from central Asia into Nepal and these high mountains also act as the boundary in the north monsoon wind patterns. Majority of the rainfall occurs in Monsoon (JUN/JUL), almost eighty percent. Winter rains are more pronounced in the western hills. There is 1,600 mm of rainfall in average around the country, but is very uneven in different zones for example there is 3,345 mm in the Kaski district whereas 300 mm in Mustang. An interesting fact is that there is no seasonal constraint on traveling in and through Nepal. Even in December and January, when winter is at its severest, there are compensating bright sun and brilliant views. But spring and autumn is the best time to be here as the weather is pleaseant and nice and especially in spring flowers including rhododendrons make the country more colourful and beautiful.
Here’s a brief view of the average temperatures and rainfall during peak summer and winter in three most popular tourist areas:
|Place||Summer (May, June, July)||Winter (Dec, Jan, Feb)|
|Max (°C)||Min (°C)||Rain (mm)||Max (°C)||Min (°C)||Rain (mm)|
Almost 24 % of the land mass of Nepal is covered by 20 protected areas. There are 10 national parks, 3wildlife reserves, 6 conservations areas and a hunting reserve unevenly distributed from the lowland to the arctic Himalayas. Among the protected areas 2 of them Chitwan National park and Sagarmatha National park are listed in the UNESCO natural heritage sites list. Although Nepal covers a very insignificant land mass of the globe i.e. 0.1% it has 2.80 percent of plants, 3.96 percent mammals, 3.72 percent butterflies and 8.9 percent of birds in the world. Among the 6,391 species of flowering plants recorded in Nepal, 400 are endemic. Among the 399 endemic flowering plants in Nepal, 63 percent are from the high mountains, 38 percent from the mid hills, and 5 percent from the Terai and Siwaliks. Similarly, the central region contains 66 percent of the total endemic species followed by western (32 percent) and eastern regions (29 percent).
Nepal’s wildlife belongs to the Palaearctic and Indo-Malayan realms. There are 136 ecosystems, 11 bio-climatic zones and 9 eco-regions that are defined by ecological features, climate and plant and animal communities. The endemic fauna are: Himalayan field mouse, spiny babbler, Nepali kalij, 14 herpetofauna, and six types of fishes. The plains of Nepal boast of the rare species such as the Bengal tiger, Asiatic Elephant and one-horned rhinoceros. Nepal is a bird watchers paradise as it has almost 900 species of birds among which around 500 are found in and around Chitwan national park area. Though Nepal doesn’t have significant reserve of minerals it is rich in hydropower, timber and traces of Quartz, lignite, copper, cobalt and iron ore have been found which are yet to be explored.
The diversity in climate and altitude has resulted in biodiversity in Nepal. Wildlife of Nepal can be classified as common and protected. Animals such as the leopard, spotted deer, Himalayan tahr, blue sheep and others are common species and 26 mammals, nine birds and three reptiles are considered protected. These rare animals are confined to their prime habitats.
There are 185 species of mammals in Nepal. Among the most exotic creatures of Nepal are the Bengal tiger, Asiatic elephant and the one horned rhino. Other mammals such as the leopard, monkey, langur, hyena, jackal, wild boar, antelope, wild cat, wolf, sloth bear, chital or spotted deer and barking deer are also found in the southern part of the country. Wild buffalo locally called “Arna” is found in the Koshi Tappu region. Suklaphanta reserve is the home of the swamp deer, blackbucks; a endangered species of deer is found in the Bardia national park and surrounding. An area of 15.95 sq. km. in the south west of the country has been declared as the blackbuck conservation area for its protection. The Gangetic dolphins are found in the big rivers of south western Nepal. The snow leopard and the red panda both are endangered species found in the high Himalayas. Red panda, a shy creature is found especially in the between the Langtang region to Kanchenjunga region. The yak, blue sheep, Himalayan tahr and musk deer are some of the interesting creatures living in the Mountains of Nepal.
There are 170 reptile species in Nepal which includes 7 poisonous snakes. The wet and tropical Terai region is a very good habitat for the reptiles. The most significant of the reptile species found in Nepal are the gharial with a long snout and the marsh mugger which feeds on almost everything it can find. Some famous snake species found in Nepal include cobras, besides these turtles and monitor lizards are also found in the plains.
Nepal is a paradise of bird watchers. It has almost 900 recorded species of birds more than half of these species can been seen around Kathmandu and Chitwan National park area. In Kathmandu Nagarjun, Godavari and Phulchoki are popular birding areas. Phulchoki at 2,760 m boasts about 90 bird species including the endemic spiny babbler, which was thought to be extinct until it was spotted in Nepal. Another rare species of bird, the red-headed trogon, was also sighted here in April 2000. National parks like Chitwan and Bardia harbor a wide variety of birds too. In Chitwan, endangered vultures are being protected from contaminated food by establishing “Vulture Restaurant” which feeds them safe carcasses. The Koshi Tappu region is home to a large species of resident and migratory birds. It has about 26 varieties of ducks alone. About 485 species have been sighted here, including black ibis, honey kites, ospreys, black headed orioles, peregrine falcon, partridges, ruddy shelduck, storks, vultures and eagles among others. In the higher Himalayan region are found different species of the raptors and birds of prey. Nepal’s national bird, the Danphe or Impeyan pheasant, is also found in the Himalayan region. A rare bird known as jerdon’s baza was sighted in Nepal. Over the past few years a conservation group has worked specifically in the Lumbini area to conserve the Sarus crane.
Nepal is home to 2.80 percent plant species found in the world. There are more than 6,391 flowering plants from 1,590 genera and 231 families. This comprise of 2.76 percent of the total plant species found in the world. Altogether 2,532 species of vascular plants represented from 1,035 genera and 200 families in the protected sites. Nepal us home to more than 130 endemic plant species.
For ecology and vegetation purpose Nepal could be divided into four floristic regions i.e.
- central, and
- eastern, and bio-climatically these are broken down into twenty regions from humid tropical climate to the arid, alpine regions.
Nepal has 400 endemic flowering plants with more than 60 % from the high mountains, 34% coming from Hilly region and 6% from the Terai and lower hills. The central region of Nepal has more than 67% of the total endemic species of plants and is followed by 30% in the western and 30 % in the eastern region of the country.
Medicinal Plants of Nepal.
The Northern part of the country with high mountains has a huge collection of medicinal plants The Aurveda an ancient book on medicine describes a lot of medicinal plants from the high mountains. Some of these plants are even used for allopathic medicine. There are plenty of Medicinal plants in Nawalparasi, Chitwan, Bardia, Dhanusha in the plains. The districts of Makhwanpur, Syangja, Kaski, Lamgjung, Dolakha, Parvat, Ilam, Ramechhap and Nuwakot in the hills are famous for the medicinal plants. In the mountainous region Dolpa, Mugu, Humla, Jumla, Manang, Mustang and Solukhumbu have abundant reserve of these plants with healing abilities.
Theophrastus, intrigued by the sight of a plant with a pair of roots and Orchis, the Greek word for testicles was the name given to them by him. About 500 to 600 genera and some 20,000 to 35,000 names are found in the world making Orchid the largest plant family. Nepal has 57 genera (27 Terrestrials and 30 Epiphytic) with a few Lithophytes. Nepal is endowed with an incredible variety of orchids scattered across the country. Dedrobium is the largest species, followed by Habenaria and Bulbophyllum. Anthogonium, Hemipilia and Lusia are some of the other varieties amongst the nearly two dozen single species families.
The Population of Nepal is 26.6 million as per the population census of 2011. There are more than 100 ethnic groups and 95 dialects in the country. The distinction in caste and ethnicity is understood more easily with a view of customary layout of the population. Though there are many dialects Nepali is the official language and the language used by majority of people and also by the government. English is also spoken by many as second language as schools teach English since early childhood.
Northern Himalayan People:
The northern part of the country with Himalayas has a high Tibetan influence and people of Tibetan origin often speaking Tibetan language reside in this area. Sherpas, Dolpa-pas, Lopas, Baragaonlis, Manangis and Thakali are some of the famous ethnic groups in the mountainous region of the country. The Sherpas are mainly found in the east, Solu and Khumbu region; the Baragaonlis and Lopas live in the semi-deserted areas of Upper and Lower Mustang in the Tibetan rain-shadow area; the Manangis live in Manang district area; while the Dolpa-pas live in Dolpa district of west Nepal.
Middle Hills and Valley People:
Middle hills are the most crowded area interms of presence of ethnic groups. Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sunuwars, Newars, Thakalis, Chepangs, Brahmins, Chhetris and Thakuri are the most common ethnic groups found in the green hilly areas. There are also occupational castes namely: Damai (tailor), Sarki (cobbler), Kami (blacksmith) and Sunar (goldsmiths).
Ethnic Diversity in the Kathmandu Valley:
Kathmandu Valley is the melting pot of all ethnic groups in the country, but the aboriginal people of the Kathmandu Valley are the Newars. Newari culture is a mix of Hindu and Buddhist religious practices. They are farmers mostly and are famous for the number of festivals they celebrate.
People from Terai.
Tharus, Darai, Kumhal, Majhi are some of the prominent ethnic groups of the Terai region in the south of Nepal. Most of them speak north Indian dialects like Maithili, Bhojpuri. Since most of the land is fertile and easy to irrigate most of the people are farmers. There are, however, some occupational castes like Majhi (fisherman), Kumhal (potter) and Danuwar (cart driver).
Culture of Nepal
Since Nepal has a lot of diversity in topography and climate this has resulted in the diversity in cultures as well. A conglomeration lies in capital city Kathmandu where cultures are blending to form a national identity. Kathmandu Valley has served as the country’s cultural metropolis since the unification of Nepal in the 18th Century. A prominent factor in a Nepali’s everyday life is religion. Adding color to the lives of Nepal’s are festivals the year round which they celebrate with much pomp and joy. Food plays an important role in the celebration of these festivals.
Before being declared as a a secular country Nepal was the sole Hindu Kingdom in the world. But the majority of Hindus did not stopped in the flourishing of other religions in the country such as Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism, Bon, ancestor worship and animism. These all religions have coexisted in the country with great harmony and tolerance. The last census shows that 80% of the people follow Hinduism, 10% follow Buddhism and remaining 10 % comprises of Islam, Christianity and other religions.
The diversity in Nepal in terms of ethnicity again makes room for various sets of customs. Most of these customs go back to the Hindu, Buddhist or other religious traditions. Among them, the rules of marriage are particularly interesting. Traditional marriages call for deals arranged by parents after the boy or girl come of age. Nepalese do not eat beef. There are several reasons for this, one being that the Hindus worship cow. Cow is also the national animal of Nepal. Another interesting concept among Nepalis is division of pure and impure. “Jutho” referring to food or material touched by another’s mouth directly or indirectly, is considered impure by Nepalis. Nepalis consider cow dung to be pure for cleansing purposes. During menstruation women are considered impure and hence, are kept in seclusion until their fourth day purification bath.Nepal is a patriarchal society. Men usually go out to work while women are homemakers. However, in cities, roles can differ. Most Nepalis abide by the caste system in living habits and marriage. Rural Nepal is mostly agrarian, while some aspects of urban life carry glitz and glamour of the ultra-modern world.
Nepal does not have a distinct cooking style. However, food habits differ depending on the region. Nepali food has been influenced by Indian and Tibetan styles of cooking. Authentic Nepali taste is found in Newari and Thakai cuisines. Most Nepalis do not use cutlery but eat with their right hand.The regular Nepali meal is dal (lentil soup), bhat (boiled rice) and tarkari (curried vegetables), often accompanied by achar (pickle). Curried meat is very popular, but is saved for special occasions, as it is relatively more expensive. Momos (steamed or fried dumplings) deserve a mention as one of the most popular snack among Nepalis. Rotis (flat bread) and dhedo (boiled flour) also make meals in some homes.